Domestic Policy Action Network Newsletter July-August 2015
Welcome to the Domestic Policy Action Network (DPAN), your go-to news primer for current domestic issues related to Episcopal Church policy and advocacy organized by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society! This bimonthly newsletter includes an overview of the Green Climate Fund, legislative updates on criminal justice reform, a recap of 78th General Convention policy outcomes, and an introduction to Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si. Please keep in mind that while U.S. Congress is currently in recess, you can still contact your members by email, mail, or phone, or arrange in-district meetings with their offices during the recess period to discuss the critical issues outlined below.
Financing Plans to Curb our Carbon
In past DPAN editions, we’ve covered the United Nations climate change talks, but have yet to touch on the financial component of these negotiations. Unsurprisingly, funding any global carbon reduction deal is a critical part of the process, and that’s where the Green Climate Fund or “GCF” comes into play. The GCF is a global fund supported by pledges from developed nations to support and empower developing countries to adapt to the devastating impacts of climate change while mitigating their own carbon emissions.
Unfortunately, impoverished countries often bear the brunt of climate change impacts as they lack the economic and political infrastructure to address the harsh droughts, super storms, and wildfires that result from our changing climate. Many developing states also require financial support to transition to clean energy production and other technologies to reduce carbon emissions. A strong and sustainable United Nations climate change agreement must account for all nations, regardless of their income level. The GCF provides such a mechanism for including and supporting impoverished communities in this initiative, and countries have already pledged over $10 billion for this fund.
President Obama has pledged $3 billion over four years to the GCF, and this year, he requested Congress to fund $500 million of this pledge through appropriations for Fiscal Year 2016. Regrettably, appropriators in the House and the Senate failed to fund his request and voted the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill (the legislation which would include GCF funding) out of committee without allocating a single dollar to the fund.
That said, both the full House and the Senate have not yet voted on these appropriations bills, and there is still time to tell your senator and representative to support this crucial fund. Funding the GCF not only empowers our vulnerable communities around the world, but also empowers our leaders to craft a strong and impactful climate agreement that will protect our environment for generations to come. The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church has urged the President and Congress to provide financial support and leadership for developing nations to control their emissions of greenhouse gases in order to reduce their vulnerability to climate change. Equipped with this message, you can be a powerful Episcopal advocate for climate change mitigation.
Time for Second Chances
After spending months or years in the criminal justice system, many former inmates face challenges (including mental health issues, homelessness, lack of education, or addiction) which make it difficult for them to smoothly reintegrate back into society. Reentry programs that support and empower former prisoners throughout their time of transition are critical to the health, safety, and welfare of these returning citizens, their families, and the communities that they inhabit.
The Second Chance Act (signed into law in 2008) is a bill that provides grant money to programs that assist former inmates in their transition back to society. This legislation funds mentoring programs, case management, reentry planning, job training, and education opportunities for adults and juveniles. The Episcopal Church Executive Council encourages members of The Church to call on Congress to support reentry programs for prisoners and ex-offenders, and The Episcopal Church has long supported the Second Chance Act. Because this bill is now up for reauthorization, Episcopalians have the opportunity to reaffirm their support and advocacy for this critical piece of legislation.
The Second Chance Reauthorization Act (S.1513/ H.R. 3406) would reauthorize available grant funds for the programs mentioned above, ensuring that they are available to key organizations through Fiscal Year 2020. This bipartisan bill was introduced this summer and is currently awaiting action in the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
We continue to urge the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to consider legislation that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences, such as the Smarter Sentencing Act. If your member of Congress sits on the House or Senate Judiciary Committee, please consider contacting them by mail, phone or email, or arranging an in-district meeting over the August recess to ask for their support for the Smarter Sentencing Act.
Do you have a member of Congress on the House or the Senate Judiciary Committee? See the list of Senate members here and House members here. If you have a member on one (or both) of the Judiciary Committees, now would be an excellent time to ask them to mark up and support the Second Chance Reauthorization Act and the Smarter Sentencing Act. You can find a sample letter on our action center here.
Outcomes of the 78th General Convention
The 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church was a time of exciting deliberation and policymaking for deputies and bishops from around the world. In addition to electing a new Presiding Bishop, Episcopal leadership passed several pieces of historic policy, including a resolution to reform marriage canons to account for same-sex unions, and policy urging all persons to discontinue display of the Confederate Battle Flag.
These high-profile votes were only two of many important new policy issues on which the General Convention deliberated. In the realm of domestic policy alone, bishops and deputies considered topics ranging from disability rights to abolishing the death penalty. The General Convention asserted its support for the civil rights of imprisoned persons with disabilities, and reaffirmed The Episcopal Church’s endorsement of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Resolution C005 supported strengthening gun trafficking laws and other firearms legislation, while D025 called on Episcopalians to work with their local governments to abolish the death penalty state by state. Racial reconciliation emerged as a priority for the 78th General Convention, and resolution C019 suggested a $1.2 million budget allocation to this effort.
On the environmental front, bishops and deputies voted to divest the Episcopal Church Foundation and the Episcopal Church Endowment Fund from fossil fuels, and tasked the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) to develop parish and diocesan resources to support environmental stewardship for church-related properties and buildings.
These resolutions, and many others, will be implemented in coordination with the DFMS in the coming triennium; please stay tuned for important announcements regarding how we will turn our policy into action! In the meantime, you can read all the resolutions that the General Convention considered and/or passed on the General Convention website.
Introducing the Papal Encyclical
Pope Francis’s highly anticipated encyclical, Laudato Si: On the Care for Our Common Home, is a dramatic message to every individual living on planet earth. Acknowledging the strong scientific consensus on global climate change, Pope Francis urges his audience to embrace a world view of integral ecology, or “attention to the necessary interaction and wholeness of relationships: with God, with other people, with Creation and with ourselves.”
The Encyclical challenges consumerism and overreliance on technology, citing human greed as an agent of destruction in the natural world and drawing attention to the challenges of global poverty. Pope Francis writes: "The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty. A more responsible overall approach is needed to deal with both problems: the reduction of pollution and the development of poorer countries and regions."
A key component of the Pope’s message advises citizens of wealthy states to assist their neighbors in the developing world to transition away from fossil fuels to cleaner technologies. The Pope also endorses a societal conversion from over-consumption to stewardship, and urges conservation both in material purchases and in energy use.
This summer, the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church passed resolution A171, welcoming the Pope’s message and calling it “a landmark encyclical focusing on the reality of climate change and the interrelated nature of our world”. While The Episcopal Church cannot fully endorse every provision outlined in the Pope’s Encyclical, our policy does correspond with many aspects of the Pope’s teaching, including our support for assisting developing countries to make clean energy transitions, and an abiding concern for impoverished communities around the world.
The Pope stated his hope that the encyclical will influence the international climate talks occurring at the United Nations, and echoing this sentiment, the General Convention encouraged “the Presiding Bishop [of The Episcopal Church] to write a Pastoral Letter to the Church on climate change before the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Paris in late 2015.” Our own President Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is a longtime advocate for addressing climate change, and you can read her remarks on this issue here and watch them here.
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